They recorded their first album in an empty fraternity house, now they’re on an international tour
by Margaret Hair
On the phone from Las Vegas, Julian Dorio is still a little upset about something he saw the day before. During his first trip to Sin City, Dorio — who plays the drums for Athens, Ga., power rock trio The Whigs — walked into a Krispy Kreme. He got about five steps into the doughnut shop before running into a casino.
“This is by far the strangest place I’ve ever been. It’s so odd. It doesn’t even seem like people live here,” Dorio said. “There’s no grocery store that you can see… It’s just all businesses and lights and casinos.”
Things like this have been happening to Dorio a lot lately, as his band travels the United States on a relentless tour schedule. The Whigs’ tenacious attitude and do-it-yourself ethos are often credited for its relatively loud blog buzz and quick ascent to music festival main stages. Their first album, 2005’s Give ’Em All a Big Fat Lip, was recorded on eBay-purchased equipment in a fraternity house that had been left empty for the summer. The result was lo-fi product that was far from a studio-quality sound. But it was also great, packing the kind of youthful edge and straightforward love of rock music that was a novelty in 2005, and it sparked enough interest to attract attention from the Dave Matthews-founded ATO Records.
The band’s sophomore effort, Mission Control, came out on ATO in January, and was not recorded in an empty frat house. You could say The Whigs are coming up in the music world, but they certainly aren’t letting it go to their heads. They still hit Burger King on a nightly basis, and Dorio even admits to running an online store out of his bedroom in Athens — which is not something you don’t often hear from up-and-coming rock stars.
“We sort of do everything ourselves. I mean, we have tons of help from our manager and our booking agents and our label, so I can’t act like we’re deprived. But when it comes to that kind of stuff where we’re running the website or updating the blog or selling T-shirts, we still do that. I have shirts just filling my room,” Dorio said.
“Maybe I should relinquish that. But when there’s something that comes up where we need to do this or we need to try that, either I hop on it or Parker does. We just kind of take care of it.”
That “we will make this work” sense of purpose has endeared The Whigs to fans across the country, but it has been particularly effective on those who have seen them perform live, especially back in the days when they ran a smaller club circuit on hit-and-run road trips between classes at the University of Georgia.
“We would drive as far away from Athens as New York and Texas and Chicago for a weekend, and then turn around and drive 13 hours back home,” Dorio said. “That was grueling. Staying out on a real tour isn’t as bad as that. In a weird way, you can get a little more situated when you’re just kind of out for a long time.”
There’s a staggering simplicity to the way The Whigs perform and to the way the band’s members think about playing shows: they like doing it, and so they do. That love comes across partially from their months-long tour schedule, but mostly in a live show that rocks, flat out, from one three-minute garage hit to the next.
“We love recording and all that, but it’s been — or it is — more important to us to just try to play once a day,” Dorio said. It makes sense, then, that The Whigs’ level of grit has stayed about the same from their first record to their second.
Dorio guesses that Mission Control is an evolution from Fat Lip, but it retains all the elements that made the band popular to begin with. The songs are fuller, with horn flourishes and a classic rock grandeur that didn’t exist on The Whigs’ college-days efforts.
The higher quality of sound is a shift for sure, but it’s not a huge break in philosophy.
“I don’t think the songwriting is drastically different. Hopefully it’s as good or better, because we’re trying to hone that craft,” Dorio said. “But the first record, having done it in this house with minimal equipment and with no budget, it just has a lo-fi sound to it — which sounds in no way bad to me. I was happy with that, and I think we were all happy with that, because that’s where the band was at the time.”
When they independently released Fat Lip in 2005, The Whigs’ approach to playing was a throwback to the dirtier days or rock as compared to the lighter pop- and folk-influenced music that typified the local scene for the first part of the decade. However, despite the trends, music-lovers in Athens have always been willing to embrace new sounds.
“That’s what’s great about Athens. Even with R.E.M. and Elephant Six [record collective that includes Neutral Milk Hotel and Elf Power] and Widespread being the biggest things, there are so many more things that are popular. Maybe not as popular, but there’s so [much] more that maybe people don’t realize. There’s a lot of different sounds going on in town,” Dorio said. “And those bands, as great as they are, sort of encouraged us to do what they did, where they kind of created their own sound.”
There are parts of that community Dorio misses, and he’s occasionally tempted to go back and play small shows without promoting them. But that won’t be happening for at least the next few months, as The Whigs play dates from Boulder to Belgium, closing out their summer tour at the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago.
Judging by the blog entries on their website — which include antique shopping and considering cooking meat on a grill procured from a trash bin — The Whigs’ attitude toward making music hasn’t changed much with their recent success.
“I think the point was to have a lot of fun with it, and we did.”On the Bill:
The Whigs will perform with The Dead Trees and What Made Milwaukee Famous at 9 p.m. on Thursday, May 29, at the b.side Lounge, 2017 13th St., Boulder, 303-473-9463.
Respond: firstname.lastname@example.org to top